Do you know the popularity rules?

The End

Yes, I'm done. Here at least. Poptext is migrating to a shiny new home over at wordpress, and expanding to include general pop culture stuff, YA author-i-ness, life & more. I figured I wouldn't clutter up your rss feeds, but if you want to come along and update your bookmarks, do!

I've copied the archives over, but I'll be leaving them up here too. will automatically redirect, as will (once I get my web guru to decode, that is).

It's been grand. Really, it has. When I read back over the past few years, it amazes me how much this blog expanded my world and what excellent people it brought into my life. I started writing alone in my dorm room, trying to distract myself from college, and wound up finding a career, of sorts. I've been published and paid. I've travelled to new and wonderful places across the world, meeting folks I wouldn't know without these musings, and I've found a love for music I never knew I could possess. See, I don't play any instruments, I can't even read music, and those who have experienced the wonder of my kareoke know that I can barely carry a tune. But delving into songs, picking the threads and chords apart, I discovered that it doesn't matter at all. I can feel music, and I can try to find the words to tell you about it, and that's as much as anyone should need.

But it's time for some shift in direction. I've just set up in a snowy new city, I have a book coming out next year, vast amounts of pop media to consume, and I think it's time to bring more of myself and my world into poptext. I hope you'll come along, but if you don't, then thank you. A deep, heart-felt, sincere thank you.

PopText's new home



PopText 2007 (Part Two)

Stolen Car – Carina Round

Temptation—I give up the fight tonight. My body is an open mouth.”

Carina came true for me this year, taking her raw ache and crafting it into something controlled and beautiful. That’s not to say she’s stripped away any of the wild insistence, that discordant surge, no, that still rattles and cries full of furious lust. But here, at last, she’s reined back; tugging every messy impulse into some semblance of structure. And oh, how radiant she is for it: hot sun flooding the tiny room instead of dispersing into a distant horizon.

It’s no secret that I adore a shape to things; arcs swooping, neatly-built narratives—melodies are wasted in chaos, less than the sum of their parts for all the confusion, the debris. I remember watching Carina perform ‘Into My Blood’ to an empty room, what seems like a lifetime ago. She took that tiny stage, took us all and unleashed her fury, slamming bitter shards of stardust into our lungs; cutting us from the inside. But as much as I was enchanted, I never listened to the song again: it was too harsh, too difficult to set loose on my already-bloody heart—a taste of destruction, a dangerous path.

But here she is again; still aching, still messy, still full of everything I edge around, only this time pulled tight and fierce and all the more tempting for it. You treated my body like a stolen car. And we feel it. Dark roads, heart-kick speed, recklessness setting our synapses alight. The music is muddy and midnight hoarse, but above all else, it’s immersed in need—the entire album shivers with longing, those harsh chords kept under guard and let free only once you’re swooning, too far gone.


Whisper it on the outward breath, and feel the space it leaves.

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PopText 2007 aka All the Songs I Haven’t Posted Yet (Part One)

I don’t really do lists. I find all that ranking and quantifying to be a) generally something men seem concerned with and b) impossible. I mean, to say that I adored x song over y by z amount isn’t how I consume anything, let alone art. So, instead of a bumper End O’ Year list, here’s the collection of songs; maybe I put them on mixes for my friends, maybe I yelled them loud over the sound of the freeway, maybe I felt them hard.

Maybe you will too.

1. Okkervil River - Unless it’s Kicks

What gives this mess some grace unless it's kicks, man? Unless it’s fictions, unless it's sweat or it's songs?

I could simply reprint the lyrics to this very song to describe it, the way that heavenly song punches right through my mind and just hums through my blood; but as somebody who strives for nothing more than to scratch my words into another’s mind for just a few brief moments, that wouldn’t do it justice. See, I spent this year writing, which makes it no difference to most other years, but what happened this time around was that I got to be a Writer. It shouldn’t matter, but the external validation getting paid provides is something real, something that lets me keep my posture a little straighter when asked, inevitably, ‘So are you published?’ This song is not just meta in the outside-in way we know so well—detached, observational—but meta in the way it delves into the murky world of what it means to create for somebody else’s consumption; the delicate line between your heart on the page (or verse, or canvas) and those lines spilling from somebody’s lips. I’ll always remember the first time I heard my own words quoted back to me: a strange burn of satisfaction edged with the metallic discomfort of knowing I was no longer in a vacuum, that those words didn’t belong to me anymore.

Will Scheff nails a lot of things here, from the relentless drive to create, to the uneasy reality that exists one step past that creation, and he does it all with a melody that takes flight behind my ribcage, every damn time. It’s easy to say that something soars, but even that word doesn’t quite cage the lift and flutter as drums and riff and voice weave higher and wind into something perfect. We always have that safety net, you see, time and again. “At least it’s material” we say, and wait for the next thing to become real, but this song manages to craft reality out of the mere act of creation, and that, my friends, is what this year was to me.

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Aly & Aj - Potential Break-up Song

“This is the potential break-up song/ our album needs just one.”

The latest addition to my pop arsenal: a weapon for the conversion cause. Understand, it’s not that my tastes don’t span the depths of the Dixie Chicks back-catalogue and scale the dizzy heights of the Hold Steady, but I’ve got an agenda to push, and Okkervil River won’t cut it on my mixes (glorious as they well may be). No, sometimes I’m out to win over indie hearts and minds, and that means the big guns—the songs that will tempt even the most devoted ones away from their solemn guitars and towards the shiny pop light. I need gateway tracks, and god, does this deliver.

Effervescence is in short supply right now, what with Rihanna’s painstakingly precise beats and hellogoodbye’s careful sincerity, but Aly & AJ somehow muster utter effortlessness in every breezy line. The sisters have thankfully jettisoned that earnest Christian rock phase, now we get delightfully shallow MTV movies, blonde poses and oh, what a song! As irreverent as it is irresistible, this is an ice-cream dream: gone in an instant, leaving only the fleeting memory of a breathy chorus, that lala-ed melody, a faint Spice Girls aftertaste. So the vocoders may be heavy, the lyrics light—you know by now that I care not.

Another pop convert singing my tune is another battle won.


This Aint A Scene, It's A Goddamn Marketplace

Emo takes the mall-kids, American parents wring hands in fear.

This month’s J14 magazine features nine pictures of Pete Wentz. On the cover and in side-bars; slotted between High School Musical 2 previews and cute back-to-school make-up tips, the Fall Out Boy bassist is the latest tween dream heartthrob—skinny denim and all. For a publication whose target audience maxes out at thirteen, a full-page feature on guyliner and the hotties who wear it (Brendan Urie! Gerard Way!) isn’t just a way to fill space in their super summer issue, it’s a declaration of emo’s transformation. What once was the soundtrack to sincere guitar-strumming boys, and then loner disaffection has been reinvented yet again as a merch-orientated, socially networked, mainstream phenomenon—with Wentz as the ultimate poster-boy....

For more, read my article on the new Collected Voices blog.


The Thermals - Pillar of Salt

I went West. Like so many before me, and so many after, I packed up a bag and headed out to find something more than this complacency, more than this lull of contentment. Sometimes you make your plans, but sometimes you just snap—running before you can change your mind or think about the dozen ways this could fall apart, because there’s a chance it might not. Just a chance.

So I went West, to lily-edged lakes and quaint clapboard coastline, to sparkling cityscapes and sound. To skeezy loft dance-parties and hot friendship and possibility; cocktails, ice cream, slow-rolled movie nights. To a book deal.

I’m back (for now), but you can hear it, can’t you? The buoyant melody yelled on a 2am highway, that crashing rhythm refusing to drop below eighty. Skidding faster, a flash in your veins. This song is a tale of running, taking everything precious and making it out while you’re still alive. It may only be your heart winding down, but if it’s all you’ve got, it’s enough.


More otherness

My latest artistDIRECT column is up for you, The Kids Are All Right: a discussion of tweenpop and all its synergistic wonder. I also interviewed the lovely Tiffany (Yes, THAT Tiffany) and Elizabeth Cook, plus there are reviews of Big N Rich, Fair to Midland and Gretchen Wilson. Enjoy!

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More artistDIRECT work for you, including reviews of Miranda Lambert, Elizabeth Cook and Maroon 5, plus my very first pop column in which I ruminate on American Idol, Alanis Morisette and the art of the cover song.


Robyn Interview!

"I want the melodies, I want the bittersweet."

A couple of weeks ago I met the utterly adorable Robyn for tea and talk about taking control, anti-pop attitudes, and the science of great songwriting - full interview on

Also there you can find my reviews of the album, Joss Stone and the Fratellis - plus more cool musicy things.

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Sia - Breathe Me (Four Tet remix)

This isn’t a passing phase. It’s not the footless tights you better laugh over one day, sugar-sweet alcopops and gingerbread lattes – set forever in a Perspex memory bubble: distinct, defined and wholly of that time. No, this something still in motion; a song that coils around your spine, lightly scratching at the back of your chest with dull nails and a low, insistent percussion. This is a constant, the even intake of breath until despite yourself, your pulse quickens and you wait for something – anything – to claw deeper. But nothing comes. There is no kick, no grab to satisfy that shiver; instead the wounded vocal just winds onwards until you have no choice but to exhale and sink into the slow rhythm, resigned to the itch that lingers, just behind your ribs.

The original version’s piano refrain is too pretty for me. It is sweet, complete – it softens the need in her voice and that desperate restlessness into something simple. Crescendo, conclusion. Mylo fills the sound, Ulrich Schnauss pulls the fibres apart into mere whispers, but this, this remix is infused with something closer to the light self-loathing of vulnerability. Lipstick smeared into a pale reflection, that careful machinery inside you paused for just a second. When all that you are is all that there is; and oh, how you wish it was something easy and pure.

A beat, a melody, a steady helplessness – hypnotic in its repetition, yet somehow a comfort all the same. No, this is not a passing phase, and so you sink into it all over again.

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Robyn - With Every Heartbeat

It struck me one day, doodling idle post ideas in the back of an economics lecture. Station concourses and high school back steps; half-hearted phone calls and holiday apartments – the places and faces change, but a break-up is always the same. Love, you see, is a zero-sum game.

No matter how mutual it claims to be, regardless of the amicable smiles that get beamed about, somebody always loses. Somebody always hurts the most. Somebody always wins.

And. It. hurts. With. Every. Heartbeat.

Robyn knows she’s lost. Even her opening chords are laced with melancholy, the lines are dragged and dog-tired, stretched with the kind of weary resignation that only echoes when you’re close to collapse. And so it goes. One smile dimmer, one voice not quite so full of relief; we’ve all been there, either side, every side. We’ve all flicked our eyes away for safer ground, picked that public spot for minimal damage. We’ve all dug angry half-moons in our palms to keep back those tears, held ourselves together with nothing more than the simple intake of breath and a few silent prayers.

And oh, how we know this final refrain. Every strained syllable forced from her lips is short with desperate self-control. Half a gasp, the jaw clenched, yet still she clings to the pained string melody; kept afloat by the bubbling synth waves.

And. It. hurts. With. Every. Heartbeat.

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Damone - What We Came Here For

Shuffle doesn’t usually pay out, but, oh, this time it did. My knees were cramped, my mind was cranky – six hours stuffed into the bus with nothing but old playlists and new ARCs and then, and then…

Boston swooped into view the moment those thrum-ta-tum beats shuddered through me. Chords thick with fanfare, the city lights dangling over my highway trail, and that sweet voice spiralling away into the night over a looping, decisive riff. A moment in action: the flick and writhe of something twisting into life. Possibilities hissing as I stepped into the dry, air-con terminal.

We thought we were so damn cool.

Youth and irresponsibility and pained self-righteousness, bound up in a vocal and strung along over sound that doesn’t sit back, confined to the airwaves, but exists. Thick and tangible around you; reeking of smoke and damp and beer and sweat. Sound from a time when drama and power chords set out to shake the stadium; sound sliced and shined and mixed and thrown into the loop with a hair-toss and reckless simplicity.

I could tell you about the production niche, so glaringly modern. I could tell you about 80’s hair-rock legacies, about Meatloaf, about Max Martin. I could diagram the outline this song makes as it punches through the page, or attempt to graph the thunder of beats and chorus chanting.

But all I’ve got is those few days, half a year ago. Neon lights, bright on the horizon; suburban streets, a borrowed car and new friendship cluttering the dashboard. Sherman’s, soul music, apple trees and bad teen movies. Half a world away.

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Avril Lavigne - Girlfriend

Don’t be fooled. This song may try and trick you into thinking it’s a harmless cherry popsicle – all spring quickstep double-handclaps, dripping sweet sugar rush – but those jubilant cheerleader hi-kicks are only a distraction from the ice shards that will hit your poor, tender brains in oh, five, four, three…

Then you get it. Don’t you? That while you were off, merrily chanting your hey!heys and your you!yous with a flip and a bounce and a daffodil shimmy – the sky clear, the world green & lush & full of spirit fingers – they were taken. Snatched away into the arms of someone with shinier hair that fell sighing of scenes and cigarettes, who made mixtapes with hand-scrawled playlists and read all the Jonathan books you hurled across the room in defeat. Someone who, most importantly, made ohso sure the world knew they were damn precious in a way you could never dare.

And they were humming this song as they did so.

Sure, when your rage is gasping for air and you’ve shattered those ice shards, you’ll have to admit that they weren’t so much snatched as gently led astray, but shh! that won’t make you hate the taste of cherry any less, or shy away from ‘Bring It On’ reruns forever more.

This is probably just a holding pattern. I’ll be experimenting with layout, and content, and life. Although, as you’ve guessed, my word means nothing and this same post and this same layout may well be here in six months.

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